Woman Combing her Hair
Degas, in the Classic line of descent from Ingres as a draughtsman--and one of the greatest in Europe since the giants of the Renaissance--exchanged oil paint for pastel, as in this example, with a sense of greater freedom in being able to draw in the medium as well as to apply color. The word `classic' refers to his preoccupation with the human figure but not to any desire to depict an ideal type of humanity. Remarking that `la femme en général est laide' he showed no disposition to modify this supposed ugliness. He quickly abandoned the antique subject-matter of pictorial composition after his few early essays.
His meeting with Manet in 1862, his acquaintance with Berthe Morisot, Monet, Renoir and Pissarro and his introduction to the Impressionist dealer Durand-Ruel, all tended to draw him into the current of Realism and Impressionism, though open-air landscape painting did not interest him in the least. Realism required that the nude should be depicted in a situation of credible reality and not artificially posed as some character of fable. Impressionism no doubt contributed the idea that just as the landscape painter caught transient effects of light so it was possible to catch natural and transient phases of movement in the living model. The credible reality was usually that of bathers in the open. Degas made a logical enlargement of his field of study in depicting women in various stages of undress at their toilet or getting into and out of le tub. With its unconventional pose, this pastel shows the concentrated force of form and color he was able to attain.
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